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New Financial Product Lets Investors Support Independent Media

This is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Investors are being offered a new way to support independent media in developing countries. The Swiss private bank Vontobel and the social investment group responsAbility launched the offering last week.

They say the new product will provide not just a financial return, but "social added value." They say it is a chance to invest in press freedom with a moderate level of risk. Vontobel spokeswoman Claudia Kraaz says the new financial product will be listed on the Swiss Exchange starting May eighteenth.

The product combines two things. One is a bond-like investment. The other is a loan to a New York non-profit organization, the Media Development Loan Fund.

The goal is to raise twenty million Swiss francs, about sixteen million dollars. Twenty percent of that will go into the loan. Interest on the loan will be charged at a rate of one percent.

The announcement said Bank Vontobel and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation will guarantee the product is tradable at all times. And they will guarantee that investors can resell it, if necessary, before the end of the five-year term.

The Media Development Loan Fund will use the money for low-cost financing of projects in developing democracies. The group has financed independent media companies in seventeen countries.

The money is used for such things as broadcasting equipment, computers and printing presses. The Media Development Loan Fund currently has out about thirty million dollars in loans. Spokesman Peter Whitehead tells us that loan losses are three percent.

Sasa Vucinic started the Media Development Loan Fund in nineteen ninety-five. He was chief of independent Radio B-92 in Serbia. He calls the new investment product a "truly revolutionary step." He says it could provide an example for using private finance to support other social projects around the world.

The announcement came on May third, World Press Freedom Day.

The group Reporters Without Borders said at least sixty-three journalists and five media assistants were killed worldwide last year. It says more than one thousand three hundred media workers were attacked or threatened, the most since nineteen ninety-five.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Read and listen to our reports at This is Shep O'Neal.